“If you have ever come up with a work-around or improvement for a balky product only to find that it performs better than the original, you are not alone. Eric von Hippel proffers multiple examples where an ordinary user, frustrated or even desperate, solves a problem through innovation. His research found innovative users playing with all manner of product: mountain bikes, library IT systems, agricultural irrigation, and scientific instruments. Often, manufacturers keep at arm’s length from these inventions. He describes the Lego company “standing like a deer in headlights” when technologically adept adults discovered they could design their own sophisticated Lego robots. User communities arise, freely communicate with each other, advance ideas and sometimes even “drive the manufacturer out of product design,” according to von Hippel. This widely distributed inventing bug is a good trend, believes von Hippel, because users “tend to make things that are functionally novel.” Not only is it “freeing for individuals” but it also creates a “free commons” of product ideas, parallel to the more restrictive world of intellectual property governed by less creative manufacturers.”
On Von Hippel’s website, you can also find some video tutorials on the topic of “lead user” studies.
(via Business Innovation 2005)